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Elephants risk vanishing from Tanzania’s largest game reserve

The future of wildlife and ecosystems in Tanzania’s largest game reserve is under threat due to poaching and harmful industrial activities.

Elephants could vanish from Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve within the next six years, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned.

Saving Selous: what’s at stake

The only site in southern Tanzania to have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for its exceptional natural significance, Selous is one of the world’s largest game reserves. Up until the 1980s, the site had one of the highest concentrations of elephants in the world.

However, in the last decades their population has been decimated by widespread poaching. In the 1970s the park had 110,000 elephants. In 2014 only 15,217 remained. This means that in fewer than forty years Selous suffered a loss of 90 per cent of individuals.

“Since 1976, Selous has lost an average of almost 2,500 elephants annually. If this trend continues, elephants could vanish from Selous by early 2022,” reveals the WWF in its recent report Saving Selous: African Icon Under Threat.

Not only elephants are endangered

As well as the elephant population, Selous’ natural and wildlife habitat, and the livelihood of the people living near it are threatened by extensive oil and gas extraction and the imminent opening of a large-scale uranium mine. Once operational, this is expected to produce 60 million tonnes of radioactive waste.

“Currently, there is no proven method to prevent contamination of surface and ground water, which are vital for both wildlife and nearby residents,” according to the WWF.

The Rufiji River winding through the Selous Game ©  WWF
The Rufiji River winding through the Selous Game Reserve © WWF

The impact of ongoing poaching, extraction and mining activities could also negatively reflect on Tanzania’s economy. Tourism in Selous generates 6 million dollars annually and the WWF warns that current trends are likely to reduce the reserve’s appeal for visitors, “making it difficult for the site to provide sufficient wildlife protection or to become economically self-sustaining”.

WWF’s appeal: what can be done

The study urges the Tanzanian government to carefully assess Selous’ situation to fully understand its value. It advises to conduct needs-based, inclusive and transparent investment decisions that “place equal value on the needs of current and future generations, and favour activities that drive long-term sustainable development“.

Only this way can Tanzania save the reserve and its populations, and make it a driver of sustainable development in the country.

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